What it feels like…to be ultra committed to fitness.

By Dr Andrew Murray, Edinburgh.

As a Sports and Exercise Medicine doctor, I’ve worked at the Olympics, for various professional sports teams and on tours and expeditions worldwide. I worked for the Scottish Government as their Physical Activity Champion promoting exercise for health. Becoming and staying physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health.

30 minutes of walking (or any exercise) is better than any preventative medicine, and it’s safe. 60 minutes physical activity a day is the single best present you can give a child.

I worked at the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, the Tour de France and the likes, whilst I’ve won a few races in some of the world’s most spectacular locations, from the North Pole, the Jungle, the Himalaya, and have completed a 2,659 mile run from far North Scotland to the Sahara desert as well as running 7 ultra marathons on 7 continents on 7 consecutive days as well as representing Scotland in international competition.

Can I run from the Andes to the Amazon in a day?

Climbing one of the world’s highest active volcanos (Mt Cotopaxi at over 19,000 feet) and then running an extremely undulating 150 km or so into the Amazon basin. For something to be a challenge, there needs to be an element of difficulty, and a chance of failure, but have I bitten off more than I can chew? Am I sufficiently acclimatised (we climbed another 15,000 feet volcano, Iliniza 2 days ago)? Will last week’s injury to my knee scupper the challenge or will we make it to the Amazon?

We’ll find this out tomorrow, when Andes to Amazon kicks off, and finishes. I will not finish in time to watch the England vs Italy but will experience the conditions they will play in first hand, having had conditions 40 degrees colder on the high mountains.

It is an absolutely epic route, ascending South America’s most iconic mountain, the perfectly cylindrical and snow-capped volcano Mt Cotopaxi. Steam and volcanic activity can be seen inside the crater. Once down, the crampons and ropes can come off, and the Avenue of the Volcanoes awaits – giants looming over the surrounding countryside. I’ll be taking the back roads towards Latacunga, Salceido, and then Banos which are stunningly beautiful, and unsurprisingly undulating. I will pass perhaps the world’s most active volcano Mt Tunguhuara. The challenge will finish in the Amazon basin, on the Pastaza river beyond Banos.

Not surprisingly perhaps I am excited and nervous in equal measure. What an opportunity to take in some of South Americas most incredible sights, but my left knee is still swollen and bruised. It has a little sore but not too bad on the volcanoes we have been up so far but will it stand up to this. I hope so.

Many people help hugely with these challenges. Donnie Campbell (@getactiverunnin) will be climbing Cotopaxi with me, while Ross Lawrie (@mustav_monkey) will be sending regular updates. Merrell UK have as ever been wonderful in providing top quality footwear, clothing, and support, as have my employers that include SportScotland, and FASIC Sports Injuries Clinic.

Despite giving it my all, I was a million miles from completing Andes to Amazon today.

Andes to Amazon was possible, but it required everything to go right, and that is what I enjoy about the endurance challenges I have taken on – the excitement of not knowing whether you will get the job done, or whether the result is being taught a lesson.

The plan was to climb 5,987 metre Mt Cotopaxi and then run to the Amazon basin. I did neither properly. Due to restricted holidays I had not allowed any contingency days for the climb, and looking at the mountain from 3,800 metres it was clear the shift on the hill would be tricky.

Dark cloud domed Mt Cotopaxi, whilst wind clouds flew past above the volcano. Given the crevasses and route finding difficulties we had hired a local guide. At 5,650 metres with zero visibility and massive winds in places he advised us that getting to the summit safely was not possible, and we turned back.

I had begun not to feel well on Cotopaxi, but thought it may be the altitude. However at 4,500 metres on the way down I started to get stomach cramps, and the urge to find some toilet roll. Running 50 km at altitude, running off into the bushes every couple of kilometres was something I was dealing with, but I just could not keep any food or fluid down and became dehydrated and had the head spins.

Although the volcano and most of the very high altitude was behind me I was in no fit state to run another 100 odd kilometres.

I always learn more from when things do not go right then when they do. This is the first major challenge that has totally got the better of me, and the key lessons are:

1) Build in some weather contingency in the big hills, and if time does not permit this take on a different challenge

2) Although I was being deliberately vigilant in avoiding dodgy food, I clearly was not thorough enough

So Ecuador is an incredible country and Andes to Amazon is I think possible. Their pharmacists are very helpful as I have found out tonight. A lot of my friends have been incredibly helpful in setting the expedition up, with Donnie joining me on the mountain, and acquiring the Imodium. Arnaud Le Maire as ever does a fantastic job sorting my website, while Ross Lawrie helped sort updates where internet was non-existent. A huge thanks also to Merrell UK for proving top quality kit and for their support.

I will leave Ecuador frustrated but wiser. Although I had run days on Scotland 2 Sahara with a stomach bug, running 50km is very different to 100 miles at altitude with a stomach bug. Although I feel terrible and ill tonight, hopefully tomorrow is a new day.

Andrew is a Doctor, runner. speaker and author and regularly raises money for charities. Follow his incredible journeys here: 



Andrew’s first book “Running Beyond Limits” is available via Amazon / the usual bookstores.